Point of Reference
by Fred Price
Last week we looked at a number of scriptural and historical testimonials of our “Christian” past. This week I will conclude with a few more reminders of how we became who we are, memorializing the words and activities of the past in an attempt to understand the present and ensure a successful future.
Thomas Jefferson strongly believed in separating church and state functions, making him the darling of the anti-religion forces; then and now. While not a Christian in the sense we would prefer, he did have this to say. “My views… are the result of a life of inquiry and reflection, and are different from the anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinion. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed, but not the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be, sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others.”
Many in Europe and these newly United States wondered how long this republic could last. The consensus was, “As long as the ideas of the men who founded it continue dominant.” (James Lowell) The difficulties of uniting these 13 different political bodies, used to looking out for their own interests and suspicious of any centralized form of government, cannot be overstated. Countless hours were expended to form a loose confederacy let alone a democracy with strong federal powers. The balancing of executive powers with equally strong legislative and judicial branches was unheard of. These difficulties prompted Benjamin Franklin, who never accepted Christ as Savior but was a friend of Christians and Christianity, to rise before the Constitutional delegates to request prayer before their assembly. His wisdom in this was realized and acted upon – and prayer has opened both houses of Congress ever since; the mixing of politics and religion being a natural outgrowth of their need and strongly held Protestant beliefs. (Protestantism originally being a form of protest against the religious and political powers of that day who denied many the opportunity to worship and live as they saw fit.) They didn’t want the state dictating faith but didn’t want it to interfere in the “free exercise thereof” either; as it’s freedom of – not freedom from.
The document that gained notoriety throughout the world, our Declaration of Independence, attested to God and America’s reliance on him. It speaks of, “…the laws of nature and of nature’s God…” and states that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” and that, “..they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…”
George Washington, known as the father of our country, attended and participated in services when possible, serving as vestryman in his home church. He was often seen praying and studying God’s word. A private man by nature, he never forced his faith on others but was never shy in expressing his gratitude and faith either. He declared, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligation.” He spoke of “…the marvelous care of Providence, that protected me beyond all human expectation.”; and upon his retirement from the army said, “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act in my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God,...”
Calling on his men to live decent lives amidst the indecency of war he declared, “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man will endeavor to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.” His personal prayer book, written by his own hand, is filled with scripture and calls upon God – through Jesus Christ – for guidance, blessing and forgiveness. He believed Christian morality was necessary for governing a free society. Insisting that, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”
James Madison unequivocally stated, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate of the government of any other.” Were they without any confidence in “We the people”? No – but they were aware of the Biblical teaching of the fallen state of man, having seen the effects of selfishness among their contemporaries. They realized that, “There must be some restraining influence upon the will and passions of men, and the less there is from within, the more must be from without.” (Edward Burke) Freedom without restraint leading to license – every man’s behavior dictated solely on what’s good for him – which ultimately leads to “bigger” government and loss of liberty.
So what does the faith of our founding fathers have to do with behavior and government today? Were things so different then? War, joblessness, high taxation, financial ruin; people unsure of the future and afraid. Sounds pretty comparable to me. Yet these men succeeded on a scale that made them the envy of people everywhere, becoming the model of freedom movements worldwide. Looking back on what they accomplished, we are amazed. It was impossible! But, as they knew, nothing is impossible with God.
The faith of our founding fathers is irrefutable. The real question to be dealt with by society today is whether their Christian example is worth emulating. Earl Warren, one-time Governor of California, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court wrote, “I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the Spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses… Whether we look to the first charter of Virginia… or to the Charter of New England… or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay… or to the fundamental orders of Connecticut… the same objective is present, a Christian land governed by Christian perspectives.” (Never fully realized, but the ideal remains)
And it worked! A French nobleman, Alexis de Tocqueville, came to America to learn the reasons for her incredible success so soon after gaining freedom. “I sought for the greatness of America in her commodious harbors, in her ample rivers, in her fertile fields and it was not there. In her boundless prairies, in her rich mines, it was not there! In her vast world commerce, but it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and saw her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.” He concluded that, “America is great because she is good, but when she ceases to be good she will no longer be great!”
And finally, Noah Webster spoke with prophetic wisdom in declaring, “The principles of all genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by it’s authority. The man therefore who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that book may be accessory to all the disorders which society is doomed to suffer.”
What dire consequences might we be a part of if we fail to recognize and respect the faithful example of our founding fathers and all those who have struggled so hard since then to protect and preserve the essence of what it truly means to be an American.
"Today's Little Lift" from
The Light of the World (Matthew 5:14)Read Article »
Fred Price - married (49 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.
Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker. He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today. Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.
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